Friday, August 31, 2018

Craig Thomas' Sea Leopard and British Naval Power

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS

I have remarked previously that by the '80s techno-thrillers centered on Britain had become a rarity. Still, there were some, like John Gardner's Bond novel Win, Lose or Die (clearly written to capitalize on the height of the genre's boom, and the success of Top Gun), and Craig Thomas' Sea Leopard, which centers on the intrigue surrounding a British submarine equipped with a revolutionary stealth technology. Of course, in imagining British industry achieving such a technical triumph the book may appear to be a bit of pious hope or wish fulfillment that Britain could, at the least, still "punch above its weight class in the military-industrial realm," enough so as to be a major actor in world affairs, thanks to the prowess of its boffins (on which such hopes had so often been based). The same might also go for Britain's saving its own bacon in this rare, Britain-centric techno-thriller, where there is an American intelligence officer on standby, but when it comes time to save the day we see a plenitude of heavy metal British gear go into action. (It is a British Harrier that has to sneak him into the country, while a British Nimrod controls the operation.)

Still, any such feeling is mixed with an acute consciousness of Britain's decline as a major power since 1945, and especially as a naval power. One sees it in the fact, that just as in Firefox, a British spymaster ends up relying on an American agent to pull off the mission he dreamed up, but it is given explicit treatment when Commander Richard Lloyd, the captain of the sub at the story's center, after his vessel is captured and brought to the Soviet harbor of Pechenga. He sees
[t]wo "Kara"-class cruisers at anchor . . . Three or four destroyers . . . Frigates, a big helicopter cruiser, two intelligence ships festooned with electronic detection and surveillance equipment. A submarine support ship, minesweepers, ocean tugs, tankers. The sight, the numbers, overawed him, ridiculing Portsmouth, Plymouth, Faslane, every naval port and dockyard in the UK. It was like going back into the past, except for the threatening, evident modernity of these vessels, to some great review of the fleet at Spithead between the world wars, or before the Great War.
That Pechenga is a mere "satellite port" of Murmansk, that the Soviet coast is dotted with dozens of facilities equally or more impressive, makes it all the more daunting.

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"Review: Win, Lose or Die, by John Gardner."
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